Money=Symbol

I still remember when the stock market was falling. I had just decided (luckily) to stay another year in school, and the market was doing horribly, and everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off saying “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” no wait…that’s chicken little. ImageThey were actually saying “The market is falling, the market is falling” which of course just made the panic and therefore the downturn of the market worse…

2 things get me about this

1. If someone with authority had just said, Stop, calm down, let’s take the time to think about this–instead of throwing money at the situation as quickly as possible things might have gone better (and I am totally bipartisan in my blame here)

2. Money is not what we think it is…

Anyone remember when gas was under a dollar a gallon? When I was 10 (that would be 19yrs ago–yes you may do the math of how old I am 🙂 ) I remember gas sometimes being as cheap as $.89

And when I asked my congregation if they can remember one cent candy, most of them could (alas that was before my time) ImageThe point being that a dollar is not really a dollar, and that money is just a symbol.

To us it means status (yes)Image but its more than that, we trust the value of the dollar, to us it means security something we can depend on. But you know what? Money is not security. People like to think about money in the bank, or land ownership as guarentees. People like to talk about job security (is there such a thing). Heck, we even have a system of money that is named Social Security.

Do you know that our dollars aren’t backed by silver anymore? It used to be money was the symbol of the silver that backed it up in the treasury–now its backed up by nothing.

So what I have a question, what makes money an effective symbol? Probably its quantifiable and tangible nature. We have put a piece of paper out to symbolize commerce, and so we are able to better conceptualize it.

This is why tithing is so important, it isn’t just about giving money to the church–its about your relationship with God. If you give money to God regularly, then you are going think about God whenever you deal with money, hence changing the very way we deal with money in the day to day–it changes the symbol. (Maybe this is why research shows the only way money makes you happy is if you give it away see amazing TED Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_norton_how_to_buy_happiness.html for more)

Now…what if God was our security? What if we depended not on pieces of paper but on God to bring us through. What if we, in essence bank of God.Image

How much God do you have on you?

Do you have enough to get you through the week?

Can you share some God with me today?

Need more God, better go back to the bank (Church) where theres enough God to go around..

As the church, are we “generating interest” in God? Are we growing our funds? Are we accruing more God through our actions?

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Because after all, God doesn’t grow on trees…

PS Scripture Matthew 19, note 2 things 1. When the man is foolish, Jesus loves him first before he responds in ANY other way, Jesus loves him & 2. Jesus promises to increase everything a hundredfold–which is great because it clues us in to the fact that this love isn’t really quantifiable…hundredfold is a better interpretation than a hundred, because it isn’t exact, it is more a SYMBOL of what is going happen (besides who can handle a hundred spouses, speaking as a married woman who finds polygamy BIblical yet crazy, I couldn’t even handle two 😉

Anyway, the point being, Possessions are just symbols

17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Re-reading Harry Potter

 

In Chapter 24 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry makes his cataclysmic decision to go after the horcruxes, he begins to sound like Dumbledore.

 

He speaks simply, directly and with authority

 

He thanks people, retains information, and still acts in empathy and sympathy with Griphook and Ollivander.

 

 

He becomes quite …dare I say… pastoral in his demeanor….

Interesting….

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know what I believe….

When I worked at the Psychiatric Hospital as a chaplain, one of the things I would do as often as possible was a Spiritual Assessment: Basically to get a feel of someone, their faith, and how it may or may not support them.

 

 

One of the questions was “Do you feel hope?”

 

And more than once the answer I got was, “no, not really, maybe someday I will.”

 

i.e. I’m hoping for hope

 

To me, this is the essence of the Christian question….

 

When a father brings his son in Mark 9 to be healed, Jesus says he can only be healed by belief, and the father says “I believe, help my unbelief”

 

 

 

In PCUSA we have a great deal of rules and order. We have systemized theology so that we have a complete (well complete as humans get get) picture–we put all our information about God out on the table, and we desperately try to leave nothing out. Why? 

 

 

Because we don’t know everything, so we hang on tightly to those things we do know.

 

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Two things about this

 

1. Church is for unbelievers: Its for those who don’t know whats going on, and the more we make church for unbelievers the more successful church will be 

 

2. Church is for faith: Faith is not something you can hang onto–one minute you are walking on water, the next you are sinking fast. However, Church is a place to hold onto faith when you yourself don’t have any. We don’t have to believe all the time, because Jesus does. And we can both believe in Christ and not believe at the same time–>I don’t know what I believe

 

 

What an honest statement. I don’t know what I believe….

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I believe in love

 

I believe that bad things happen in the world

 

I believe in discipline

 

I believe in human brokenness

 

 

I believe in being a good person

 

 

I believe I can’t do it alone

I believe life is a miracle, every single time

 

 

I believe in relationships

 

I believe in science, math and the order of the world

 

I believe that someone is behind the ordering of it (most of the time)

 

I believe that there are intangibles that are as important as tangibles

 

I believe there are connections that are beyond desciption

 

I believe that humans have a purpose

 

I believe in God

 

I believe that good and evil both exist, and there is a struggle between them

 

I believe that I can’t understand that struggle

 

and I believe that God would never leave us hanging and alone ie I believe in Christ and the Holy Spirit

 

I believe that God is a particular person, not a nameless entity, I believe that we have complete free will and that God controls everything

 

I believe in auxi morons

 

I believe that God is timeless, and that often we mess things up by trying to constrain God with time (time travel anyone?)

 

I believe that most of the time I believe all this, and I believe the the church helps me when I believe…and when I don’t….

 

But I believe in hope, and if you don’t have hope, I believe you should hope for it! (Isn’t that what waiting for Christ is? Hoping for Hope!)

 

Voldemort “The old argum…

Voldemort “The old argument’ he said softly. ‘But nothing I have seen in the world has supported your famous prononuncements that love is more powerful than my kind of magic, Dumbledore.’ ‘Perhaps you have been looking in the wrong places,’ suggested Dumbledor.” Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince (British ed.) 415

Voldemort, looking for love in all the wrong places 🙂

Were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing, you ask who that may be, Christ Jesus it is him. The Lord of hosts his name, from age to age the same, and he must win the battle. And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us. We shall not fear for God has willed for his truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness Grim, we tremble not at him. His rage we can endure–we know his doom is sure. One little word will fell him. “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”

Hunger Games

Sometimes I feel like we can really relate to Hunger Games. Luckily things aren’t quite as bad as during the depression, but for me student debt is a real and heavy weigh in on my life as I tot up the bills and work towards providing for my family.

My friend Charlie says student debt is palpable (we graduated the same year) you can see it weighing people down when they enter a room.

So, here we are, hunger games–who are we sending out as our sacrifice? Who are we going to watch struggle for entertainment. You know what happens in hunger games, everyone is hungry for something. Even the rich city people are always eating, eating, eating (then they throw up to eat more). Why? Because they feel empty inside.

Jesus addresses emptiness, not by telling people to deal, not by pointing out people’s faults, and certainly not by giving them false platitudes.

Jesus sits with people, Jesus meets people, gets to know them, and (always) calls people by name. Maybe that’s what everyone is hungering for–even those of us who hear their name called out by crowds, those who are followed by the paparazzi and have their lives on public display (Duchess of Cambridge anyone) really just want someone to REALLY know them, to REALLY be present with them and to REALLY call them by name.

If the Hunger Games are about the games we end up playing because we are feeling emotionally, physically and spiritually hungry (um…like we do in politics maybe), then Jesus is not about Games. Jesus is about reality, Jesus is about being the real you, Jesus is about the truth of the world, and the Real-ity of Re(a)l-ationships! And if we are asking who is going to be the sacrifice, the answer was, is and will be Jesus Christ, and we don’t need “God in the white house” Imageto know that (did anyone else see that meme?). Because God is bigger than the white house, God is bigger than America and God is bigger than a world economic downturn. If you think we have control over where God is, frankly that is are humanity showing (oops)

If you don’t believe that, then there is no point in preaching the gospel in third world countries, because they are in no way on equal footing to our problems.
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Say it with me, Jesus is about Love and graciousness (not being judgmental, putting our morals on others or creating the world for Christ). God is HERE, love is HERE, let’s act like it. And please let’s think before we say something about how “other people were raised” or what “real morals” are–God loved, talked to and did not make anyone feel bad about their mistakes, he forgave and gave them a chance to change. If Almighty God can do that, then we should at least try to do the same–ImageRemember, no one convinced anyone of anything by yelling insults to them over the internet. People have been changed through true acts of lovingkindness (or hesed as its called in the Old Testament).

A Post about being Post…well Post-Everything

I am a graduate of Oberlin (yay Oberlin), and I loved (almost) every minute of it. But one of the things Obies love to do is take things apart. (Any other Obies feel free to chime in about this). In fact, sometimes we would move to “deconstructing” things so fast that I would feel like I didn’t even know how the thing was constructed in the first place (as an English Major my high school was highly lacking in Shakespeare, and I wanted to round my education out with him, however the only classes offered were about deconstructing what we supposedly had learned in high school).

Now as I get into ministry I hear a lot of talk about what this post-culture is going to do? Author Ross Douthat wrote an article about Can Liberal Christianity be saved? (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/opinion/sunday/douthat-can-liberal-christianity-be-saved.html) His conclusion was that” Today, by contrast, the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism. Which suggests that perhaps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.Absent such a reconsideration, their fate is nearly certain: they will change, and change, and die. (PS for a good response to this read http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2012/07/can-liberal-christianity-be-saved-a-response-to-ross-douthat/)

However as I look at this world, I see that we are trying to construct a Post-Religious world (i.e. Spiritual not religious viewpoint that is so oft referenced). So the question comes, what does a post-church, post-christian, post-denominational (I am told by a good friend this is a move that the Bible belt is especially making) world. How do we post about our Post-world? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postchristianity)

Going forward I have to say that to me a post-religious world would look like the following

1) Where individuals ultimately choose to uphold each other as people, even when beliefs differ (perhaps what our Moderator and Vice Moderator were trying to model at GA before our Vice had to step down). Allowing Spiritual Practices to bring people together–>at least I think this is what some of the Spiritual people are trying to get at…

2) Where church isn’t made up of the “shoulds” of religion: church should have pews, church should include hymns, church should have Sunday School, but is instead moved by Holy Spirit to BE a faith community whenever and however that comes together….

3) Where the Faith of a group of people is ultimately used to empower those individuals who are powerless. What happens when powerless people come together? that’s right they become empowered If the church functions as a community builder grounded in the love of God, then we cannot help but support and empower each other to do new and wonderful things….

Places where this is overlooked today=basically everyone who is assigned an associate pastor (that is a rant yet to come)

The Young

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Recently, these interactive boards have moved from the back of the broken pews to the corner of the sanctuary that we designated as a toddler area. (from a fellow pastor http://theresaecho.com/2011/04/18/interactive-toddler-boards/)

The Elderly

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The College Age

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The Young Adult (i.e. those in there 20s and 30s)

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(you know those with young families who need babysitting or those who are still single and constantly on the move to find a job in the tough economy)

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The Minorities: Racial, Ethnic and of course the poor

Thats right if your not a white middle class, middle aged American in many denominations your power is significantly less not only in society but in the church itself. Plus if you are not well-educated and don’t love words (say you learn by practice or are a visual learner) you probably won’t fit in well to the traditional Presbyterian service. (Does anyone else see something wrong with this?)

What would a service look like if it was regularly handed to these groups? What would faith look like if we went to where these people were?

You know what I think? I think that Ministry, True Ministry is to make FAITH ACCESSIBLE (that’s right, I put it in caps, that’s how serious I am). ImageHow do we make, not only our building, our worship and our activities accessible, How do we make our Faith Accessible. What does it mean that people identify Spirituality over religion or faith? I think its because Spirituality feels accessible. You can use what is comfortable to you, you can learn about it at your own pace, and your can connect with different people over different aspects of it even if you don’t agree completely with them (for the record I have both liberal and conservative friends).

So how can we do that for Faith?

I don’t know,

But let me remind you friends, that there is no resurrection without death!
Whether you consider this time the denominational pregnancy http://vimeo.com/25360983

or even if you think we are dying….http://treymorgan.net/17-signs-your-church-might-be-dying/

Either way, there is a rebirth a coming, the question is how will we access it?

(P.S. Giving Access is not the same as watering down faith, just so I’m clear on that!)

When to go to church (or) the Christian Struggle with Perfection

“Marilla, isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” Image

“I’ll warrant you’ll make plenty in it,” said Marilla. “I never saw your beat for making mistakes, Anne.”

“Yes, and well I know it,” admitted Anne mournfully. “But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice.”

“I don’t know as that’s much benefit when you’re always making new ones.”

“Oh, don’t you see, Marilla? There must be a limit to the mistakes one person can make, and when I get to the end of them, then I’ll be through with them. That’s a very comforting thought.”

 

I can still remember having a very “adult” conversation with my parents. It was one in which I must have been about 10, and my parents were telling me that I wasn’t perfect, and that I was going to have to live with myself. My response to this (because I knew no one could be perfect) was “I don’t want to be perfect, I just don’t want to make any mistakes!”

As Christians we have this ongoing struggle with perfection. On the one hand we want to be perfect, on the other part of being Christian (at least for me ) is admitting that we aren’t perfect. It is contending with our brokenness, and giving it up to God to be healed.

However, even though we know this about ourselves, I think that Christians often feel the mistaken need to pro-ject perfection. We want to look or at least seem perfect to everyone else. It’s as if our perfection reflects upon the perfection of God. If we aren’t perfect, then God isn’t perfect. If we don’t have all the answers, then God doesn’t have all the answers.

Instead of pointing towards God’s for answers, we rely upon ourselves or the “church” (i.e. that human conglomeration that we too often see as being the church) to be perfect/have the answers.

 

That’s where pastors mess up too right? Pastors feel that they have to be perfect, and instead of being open about their faith and their brokenness and talking about where they meet, Pastors try to be perfect, hide their mistakes/failings (which often leads to a whole nasty secret double life). Too often pastors skip their own confessions–of both faith and doubt, and then the quagmire’s come

So we are back to the perfection and mistakes. It is important to strive towards perfection, but to also rely on God on the source of all perfection. And even when I think that I know my way to God, it is important not to project that as the only way to God.

Too often, I think that Church is shown as a place for “perfect” people or (worse) people who think they are perfect. Too often Church is seen as the place where all of our answers are provided. After all, church is not the place to give standardized tests–God answers each of us personally and individually….Image

When, in actuality. God is a mystery, the church doesn’t know how everything works (Trinity, anyone? Or how about that Virgin Birth thing?) The church should be the A number 1 place to go when you AREN’T Perfect, it should be THE place to go when you have questions, and it should be the surrenduring of your mistakes and imperfections to God so that God is the one we are relying on to “project the right image” not humanity or the church in itself…..

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Here is the Church, here is the steeple, open the doors…

ImageWe all say that the church is the people, that being said, my church spends more than half of its budget on the building. On the one hand, no one objects to the money that is needed to heat, repair and maintain our building. On the other, I’m rather uncomfortable with this use of our money.

demotivational poster CHURCH

If the church is about people, then we really shouldn’t be spending so much on the building. Having committed now to put forward 10% of the offerings we receive towards mission, I find this commitment both inspiring and sad. Are we really only putting 10% of our money in the community? Are we really going to worry about every dime we spend, or can we figure if we have the  money that means that God wants us to do it.

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I don’t know if I believe in balanced budgets or buildings. I do believe in fulfill our responsibilities though (i.e. paying contracts, keeping buildings safe, not overspending and blaming our lack of money on God or each other). I know that’s probably an auxi moron but there we go. I am also aware that my church provides important community space, but I also am aware that we are in the Landlord business–and I really don’t feel like this is the kind of ministry I wish to be doing….

Here’s what I do think.

I think we should be CHURCH BUILDING not just a church building. I think the church needs to be located at the center of the community, and if the people don’t come to us, we should follow Jesus’s example and go to where the people are.

So what should we do? Sell the building? Become nomads? Be more creative with our uses of space? Where are we the most church? How can we hit the streets more? I am especially struggling with this as many churches are closing and many church buildings are empty or for sale–and what really gets me is the community, those who live near the church and yet never attend it, sees this loss as sad. What is it with the associations we have with “the Church” as opposed or in conjunction with “the Church Building”

I am still struggling to find the answers to these questions. Anyone else have thoughts?????

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